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When Using the Tor Browser Becomes Illegal? Detailed Overview

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Anonymity and privacy over the internet are becoming more critical than ever before. Among the many solutions deployed to improve online anonymity, the most famous is the use of the Tor browser. It was designed to provide internet freedom, privacy, and anonymous connection without any tracebacks. 

The Tor or the Onion router has all the essential components for achieving maximum online anonymity. With Tor, users can prevent online tracking, surveillance, and even access the hidden or unindexed websites through the .onion sites. But, the hidden or .onion services are a leading ground for the dark web vendors like the Agora or the Silk road involved in illegal activities. This raises the most obvious question: Is Tor illegal to use?

Tor browser is a free and legal software to use. But if it’s used to perform illegal activities like drug trafficking, financial fraud, and cybercrimes, then, of course, using the Tor browser becomes illegal. What are the consequences of it, and are they dangerous? To know more, let’s explore the topic in a bit more detail.

Is Using Tor Browser Illegal?

Tor browser is safe to use even if you access the dark web. But when people use it to access the dark web to perform illegal activities, the Tor browser becomes unlawful. According to a report, 57% of the .onion sites support illegal activities. Here’s the list of the most common activities performed on the darknet:

  • Human trafficking
  • Buying and selling of drugs, weapons, personal information, and other illegal stuff
  • Financial fraud
  • Hiring killers and hackers
  • Cybercrimes like malware and ransomware
  • Uploading and downloading pirated content

In a study back in 2016, researchers Daniel Moore and Thomas Rid determined the intensity of illegal activities on the dark web. They exposed a total of 5,205 websites, and 48% of them contained no content while half were hosting illegal activities. The top 423 websites promoted trading and illegal drugs, and 327 sites supported financial crimes like money laundering and the trade of stolen account numbers and credit cards.

Anyone who’s part of such activities is using the Tor browser illegally. The results of such activities are worse because the Tor browser doesn’t provide enough online protection. They not just risk online privacy but also increase the risk of online surveillance and the chances of getting caught. For example, a Freedom Hosting service provider in 2013 went offline after the FBI sought a 28-year-old Irish man. The man was charged for promoting and distributing online material related to child abuse.

As mentioned earlier, using the Tor browser itself is not illegal, but its association with the dark web to perform illegal activities makes it illegal to use. Below are the most prominent legal reasons for using the Tor browser: 

Bypassing Censorship

Using the Tor browser to get around internet censorship is also legal, and there’s nothing in it. The Tor browser can help users circumvent internet restrictions and freely browse the deep internet world. The browser has released its new 11.5 version that automatically bypasses censorship. Using this new version, you can connect to the Tor browser from heavily censored countries and even from countries where it’s censored, such as Armenia, China, Iran, and Turkey. This is an excellent initiative for journalists in authoritarian regimes who cannot access the Tor browser. The newer version requires no manual configuration for unblocking the Tor browser and ensures a safe and secure browsing experience. 

Anonymous Web Communication

Tor browser was specifically designed for anonymous communication, so if someone uses it for this purpose, there’s nothing illegal. The Tor exit nodes jumble up the internet traffic and conceal the IP address making it difficult for anyone to spy on or trace your traffic and activities. The new 11.5 Tor browser version further ensures that the users’ online privacy is not compromised. The default browsing mode has been changed to the HTTPS-only mode that establishes a secure connection between the server and the client through a protected tunnel. 

Journalists and whistleblowers often use the Tor browser to protect their sources and keep their information private. Similarly, social and political activists use the Tor browser to communicate to organize protests and rallies privately.

Access Blockchain Network and Securing Cryptocurrency

Another impressive and legal reason for using the Tor browser is to secure cryptocurrency transactions and the bitcoin network. The most significant privacy risk of bitcoin is the bitcoin blockchain. It is like a public log of transactions where the analysts can match anyone’s latest transaction with the previous one to follow the money trial. 

Moreover, the bitcoin transactions work by broadcasting the transactions to bitcoin supernodes. These nodes propagate the transaction to the rest of the bitcoin network until it becomes recognized. If the user remains unprotected from the supernodes, learn about their IP address. This way, anyone can know about your bitcoin transactions. It is where the Tor browser plays a pivotal role. The IP address remains hidden by routing the traffic via the Tor network, and the supernodes won’t identify you. Also, the bitcoin network has integrated Tor onion services within their network. Bitcoin automatically creates the onion service and acts as a bitcoin node instead of the Tor node to prevent IP leaking and improve privacy. 

Avoid Tracking

Online tracking and advertising are widespread problems for all netizens. Whatever an individual does on the internet is being tracked by spying eyes. In addition, sooner or later, they start seeing ads related to their activities, and at times, these ads are invasive and interrupt the browsing experience. They rely on the Tor browser to maintain their right and avoid tracking. By default, the Tor browser doesn’t protect anyone when someone is watching their internet traffic from knowing that they are using Tor, but it does prevent websites and advertisers from online tracking. 

The Tor browser offers a private browsing mode that deletes all cookies and website data. This feature ensures that no data will be collected related to your activities. While browsing the internet using the onion network, the advertisers find it difficult to accurately picture the user even using the collected data and demographics. When they cannot create a user file, this prevents targeted and annoying ads from reaching the particular person. 

Besides this, the cybersecurity and IT specialists also use the Tor browser to perform security testing on the dark web. Also, many free resources like digital books and research papers are available on the dark web that helps researchers while they are working on some research topic. Using the Tor browser for all the reasons mentioned above is legal and safe and won’t risk your privacy.

FAQ’s

Can I get in trouble for using Tor?

While Tor is not illegal to use in most countries, there are a few notable exceptions. China, Iran, and Russia are among the countries that have banned or heavily restricted the use of Tor. If you live in one of these countries and use Tor, you could be subject to arrest and prosecution.In addition, using Tor to engage in criminal activity is against the law in most jurisdictions. So if you use Tor to access child pornography, buy illegal drugs, or commit other crimes, you could be arrested and prosecuted even if you live in a country where Tor is legal.

Can anyone track me if I use Tor?

There are a number of ways that someone could potentially track you if you use Tor. If they are able to compromise the exit node that you are using, they could potentially see the traffic that you are sending and receiving. Additionally, if they have control over your ISP or the website that you are accessing, they could also see your traffic. However, there are a number of steps that you can take to reduce the chances of being tracked. For example, you can use a VPN in addition to Tor, or you can use Tor Browser which is designed to help protect your anonymity.

Can the government see you on Tor?

The short answer is no, the government cannot see you on Tor. Tor is a free software that enables anonymous communication. The name is derived from an acronym for the original software project name “The Onion Router”.Tor directs Internet traffic through a free, worldwide, volunteer overlay network consisting of more than seven thousand relays to conceal a user’s location and usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis. Using Tor makes it very difficult to trace Internet activity back to the user.While the use of Tor is not illegal in most jurisdictions, there are a few countries that have taken steps to ban the use of Tor. In addition, some organizations may forbid the use of Tor on their networks. For example, Facebook has been known to block users who access the site using Tor.

Consequences of using Tor Browser In USA?

There are no known consequences of using Tor Browser in the USA. Tor is legal in the USA, and there is no evidence that using Tor has ever been prosecuted by the US government. However, because Tor is designed to be used anonymously, it could be considered suspicious if someone were to use it while committing a crime. If you are concerned about being tracked by the government, we recommend using a VPN in addition to Tor.

Final Thoughts

The Tor browser provides users a decent level of anonymity and privacy. But what puts the users at risk is using Tor to commit illegal activities on the dark web. The legal authorities, ISPs, and government surveillance agencies catch such people by closely monitoring their IP addresses. However, they also suspect other people using the Tor browser for reasons like anonymous communication, gathering research material, sharing confidential information, and performing security testing. 

To keep safe from snooping eyes, users must often use the Tor browser alongside a VPN. It ensures that your internet traffic is encrypted from the beginning and hides your IP address and Tor activities from getting monitored. 

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Rebecca James is an IT consultant with forward thinking approach toward developing IT infrastructures of SMEs. She writes to engage with individuals and raise awareness of digital security, privacy, and better IT infrastructure.

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